At Rock Hill's senior center, bring up Duke's mayonnaise and that means almost starting a fight that certainly may cause additional hip replacements.
Two people with Yankee ties, Virginia Peaks and Bob Baker, called out the words, "Miracle Whip!"
"Oh, Virginia," came the chorus.
The poor lady might as well have said, "Sherman was a gentleman!"
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Duke's was left off a taste test done by a big-shot Chicago newspaper that The Herald ran two weeks ago today in the Lifestyles section. This article was apparently interpreted as slander of the highest order.
I was at the senior center to kindle the First Mayonnaise War. I near ducked under a table and hoped nobody got hurt as the Southerners defended their turf.
"88 years old and it's Duke's, and that's the end of this conversation," said Mattie L. Thompson.
"How do you make potato salad without Duke's?" asked Betty Moss Johnson. "It may not even be legal."
From the kitchen, a spirited Southerner named David McAteer announced: "Miracle Whip? Miracle somebody don't get whipped they bring that near me."
Darlene Brown, who makes all the potato salad and cole slaw for these picky clients, said; "If there isn't any Duke's left, I send Tyrone to the Bi-Lo for some more."
Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, conflict in Georgia -- the country, not the Atlanta or Savannah variety -- are important. But this is far more important. Duke's is a part of Southern culture, I have been told, that is far more important than almost all other things -- including water and air.
Readers demanded action after our near-treason.
"Handle it!" stated one nameless caller. If there were a death penalty for condiment infractions, all of these folks gladly would have thrown the switch on the electric chair.
"My son had a girlfriend in high school, brought a ham sandwich every day, and he helped her eat it one day, and he said it was spoiled," reader Carolyn Bennett from Hickory Grove stated about a years-ago crisis. "Turns out, no Duke's, so it tasted rotten."
Is a "sink sammich" -- a tomato sandwich eaten over the sink, on plain white bread with nothing but mayonnaise and salt and pepper -- a sandwich without Duke's?
"Are you crazy?" asked Linda McCorkle, retired cooking and food guru from the Clemson Extension Service. Taught two generations in York County about food, McCorkle has. "There is no substitute for Duke's. Chicago doesn't know Duke's. It is a Southern thing, a requirement. Distinctive sharp flavor. What flavor? 'Good,' that's the flavor. Nothing tastes like it.
"I have a couple of recipes that call for Hellman's, but those are Yankee recipes, and they don't know any better."
I was born one of those Northerners, but I take no offense when it comes to Duke's. I love it, too. Yet, I have bought other brands -- on sale, I shamefully admit.
Edie Low Carver, a retired food editor for a Charlotte newspaper who lives in Rock Hill, is a walking food bible. She stated in response to my heresy and hope for salvation: "1956. I'm married, we are in California. I panic. 'No Duke's!' I cry. My father sends me Duke's in the mail. 35 cents for the mayonnaise. $6 for the postage. My daughter not long ago gets sent to California. 'No Dukes!' she cries. I buy a jar for $2 and a half and it cost me $16 to mail it. You don't buy anything else, even if it is on sale."
Jane Clute, retired Herald Lifestyles editor and gardening writer forever, Southern to her tomatoes, admitted she doesn't care for Duke's. After a pause, and lightning didn't strike, she whispered: "For years, I was a mayonnaise outcast. I buy light."
Clute continued: "Nothing else but Duke's ever darkened my mother's door. Two, three jars a week. My late daddy ate Duke's on top of a full biscuit. Piled high. Every day. Buried him on his 96th birthday, and I am certain we had to wipe the Duke's from his lips at the funeral home."
So there you are. A transplanted Yank and his new troops, defending the heritage. One jar of Duke's at a time.